Efficiency-associated with individual discipline, superior management, and increased profits or productivity-often counts as one of the highest virtues in Western culture. But what does it mean, exactly, to be efficient? How did this concept evolve from a means for evaluating simple machines to the mantra of progress and a prerequisite for success?
In this provocative and ambitious study, Jennifer Karns Alexander explores the growing power of efficiency in the post-industrial West. Examining the ways the concept has appeared in modern history-from a benign measure of the thermal economy of a machine to its widespread application to personal behaviors like chewing habits, spending choices, and shop floor movements to its controversial use as a measure of the business success of American slavery-she argues that beneath efficiency's seemingly endless variety lies a common theme: the pursuit of mastery through techniques of surveillance, discipline, and control.
Six historical case studies-two from Britain, one each from France and Germany, and two from the United States-illustrate the concept's fascinating development and provide context for the meanings of, and uses for, efficiency today and in the future.
Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press
Number of pages: 256
Weight: 499 g
Dimensions: 229 x 152 x 22 mm
This concise, scholarly study will not only encourage reflective analysis of historical events but also offer insight into potential future applications and change. * Choice *
Alexander skillfully interprets a broad spectrum of sources spanning three centuries, three languages, and several academic disciplines. She packs a wealth of information into a slim and readable volume, carefully exploring the nuances of each case without straying too far from the central focus on efficiency's intellectual heritage. -- Eric S. Hintz * Enterprise and Society *
A thought provoking study... Widens our understanding of how ideas of efficiency began, how efficiency has been experienced in different historical circumstances. -- Peter Sutton * Reviews in History *
A very provocative book. -- Larry Stewart * American Historical Review *
An ambitious book that... largely succeeds. -- William J. Ashworth * Canadian Journal of History *